Life has its ups and downs. And its flat spots. Peaks, valleys, and plateaus. Life moves through time so I don’t think of these as static positions but movements along a line. Sometimes rising, sometimes falling, and sometimes flat.
There can be multiple lines: rising success at work and play, but a decline in morality and the private life. A rise in recovery and healing and yet a decline in some relationships. Sickness in the outer life and growth in the inner life— “though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” Life can be complex.
But the fact remains, we have to navigate the peaks, valleys, and plateaus and still maintain sobriety and recovery. I think the first key is to be aware of them, realize that they are part of life and that everyone experiences them. We want to think we are “special” and that our experiences are quite unique. But there are cycles in nature like the four seasons and the waxing and waning of the moon. Economies run through periods of rising and falling. Joy and suffering are part of the human condition and even our sinless Savior experienced both.
We all prefer the upward swings in life. On this side of sobriety it is natural to think of the progressive and increasingly rapid decline that our addiction was taking us on. But in the midst of it, we were really trying to get to higher levels of thrills, novelty, fantasy, and excitement. To quote from one of our 12-step books, we were “Lusting after the big fix.” We were looking for the “connection that had the magic” that would take us to the top.
I have found it much the same in sobriety and recovery: I want to be growing and moving upward at a steady rate because there is a certain amount of thrill and excitement in the process. But it is unrealistic to think that a steady rise can be maintained forever. In some ways, our current state can become a “new normal” and we can take the overall progress for granted. Things can get a little boring and we wonder how secure we really are in our recovery. We can experience some normal life turbulence or a setback in a relationship and suddenly we feel a decline in the process.
As addicts, we don’t like this at all. Any kind of plateau or valley is a signal that we need some excitement or a boost to get life jump-started again. We have become conditioned this way over a long period of time. It is at these times that I have lost my sobriety in the past. This is when the “what’s the use” attitude can take us back to where we don’t want to go: back into the destructive and addictive behaviors.
The first key is an awareness of what is happening. Peaks, valleys, and plateaus are all normal, expected parts of life and living. You are not unique in experiencing them; everyone has them.
The second key: acceptance. There are things you can’t change and because you are experiencing a valley doesn’t make you a failure or bad person. The best thing to do is ride it out. Keep doing the good and right things that contribute to your recovery: seek God, make phone calls, work the steps, etc. A flattening out or decline can be a signal for extra vigilance but it doesn’t have to be seen as a disaster waiting to happen. Be content where you are, knowing that “this too shall pass.”
It helps to look at the reason we can be content; the last part of Hebrews 13:5 says, “be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Regardless of our feelings, the Lord Jesus Christ will always be there for those that know Him.
But the context of this admonition to contentment is quite relevant to sexual addiction:
“Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:4, 5, emphasis added).
Ouch! Regardless of where I am on the rising and falling spectrum, I need to be content in my sexual sobriety!
The third key is to focus on helping others. One of the major curses of addiction is the extreme selfishness that it breeds. Life has become “all about me” and sobriety and recovery doesn’t automatically erase that. That is why the last step in 12-step programs talk about carrying the message to others. It gives us a purpose beyond our own growth and healing. In fact, a big catalyst behind our own progress is a desire to help and serve others.
It’s OK to be bored. I feel better already.
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